How do Victorian attitudes to marriage and respectability underpin the comic elements of the importance of being Earnest? Essay
How do Victorian attitudes to marriage and respectability underpin the comic elements of the importance of being Earnest?
Marriage is loveless, wealth and background takes priority over most things, Algernon supports this with a quote (once again hes the rebel) Marriage is the end of freedom, Cecily wants to break free, very curious woman who looks at society differently. takes a liking to Algernon because of this. Quote below Secret lives of the boys, humour in the peter pan like qualities quote:
“A man who marries without knowing Bunbury [an excuse for pleasure] has a very tedious time of it.” “I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time.” “You won’t be able to disappear to London quite so frequently as your wicked custom was.” “I think some preliminary enquiry on my part would not be out of place.”
In the importance of being Earnest written by Oscar wilde, he gives us two characters Jack and Algernon these two characters live double lives to get out of situations that they do not desire to be in, In Victorian society men and woman would have to uphold there respect and duties at all time. The two men create “Bunburying” which allows them to misbehave without upsetting there piers and letting go of their high moral standards of the upper class. Jack creates Ernest his sick brother to get out of situations that he doesn’t want to be in. Its ironic for jack as he creating a false image of himself in that people would see Jack as far more moral and responsible then he actually is.
Algernon however uses “bunbury” to escape to the country side in peace, while playing it off that he is doing work for poor Christian charities, it was common for the upper class to do this in Victorian times as their moral duty however Oscar Wilde specifically gives these two men these alter egos to represent Victorian hypocrisy , From the very start the humour of both characters is shown through this light and would be humours to the contemporary audience as its true. People of that time error would of bigged themselves up in front of their peers and did things just for the sake of it.
The comedic effect is how Oscar Wilde portrays this. The Victorian society above all valued duty and respect. Both men lead double lives but as long as things are done properly and they make sure that there appearance is respectable then society at the time would turn a blind eye to whatever was going on. Wilde in the play asks if it is really a concern that appearance is that important and isn’t just a trivial matter. Gwendolyn is a character that respects her value’s so much that she says “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing.” as long as it looks good to Gwendolyn and here peers that its fine.
She says that the sincerity of matter just isn’t important at all. There’s humour in just how bizarre of a comment that actually is from Gwendolyn to a modern audience now that seems so absured that someone could be so obsessed by how other people view her role that she would look so far past the importance of said question or matter. Marriage is a stable for Victorian society and the author Oscar Wilde represents it in a different pure true like manor of what it would have been at the time period. Lady Bracknell is a central figure honour and respectability in the play, although every character we meet has some kind of foolish humour to them, Lady Bracknell is very witty and quick with her lines just like Algernon who coincidentally is her nephew.
She is brutal with her lines, for instance when Jack has proposed she goes on to say “I think some preliminary enquiry on my part would not be out of place.” this line may not appear extremely comical but to some classes at the time it would, Jack is meant to be a upper class gentlemen who is respected by many, however the audience knows that he was born in a train station and lives a parallel life to get out of his daily responabilites. Its the background humour of society that Oscar Wilde creates which makes the whole conversation very clever but at the same time humours. Gwendolen is what seems to be a traditional woman of the time period should look and act, although Gwendolen isn’t like this she is very naturally curious.
This is properly due to the fact that she has never had the chance to be free like Jack and Algernon. She says to Algernon “I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time.” its from this line she is curious in him, she hasn’t seen what its like outside the boundary of her life and delivers a very ironic and humours line to Algernon. Gwendolen also desires to marry a man named “Earnest” she quickly falls in love with jack who she thinks is of course Earnest, she really doesn’t mind if he doesn’t possess the quality’s of someone actually called Earnest which means a seriousness which again is ironic for Jack.
Furthermore Jack eventually becomes Earnest and Ernest and becomes a symbol of Victorian Hypocrisy. Oscar Wilde uses humours situations like this in his play that aren’t telling the audience to burst out laughing but to underpin the humour, the author is trying to break the mould of society and gently pushing the audience and peoples mind sets to look at how funny and at the same time how wrong the world they lived in was.
He is using the humour of some situations to outline flaws. The true comedy in this play comes from how it is written and how the author takes blows at how society is working at the present moment, he never creates a conflict between the characters without humour so he can push his message across to the contemporary audience. The whole play is based around Marriage and responsibilities, from the very start to the end they are never far apart in conversation.
In fact the whole play is a debate on whether or not marriage is just “Business” or “pleasure” Although I feel as if Oscar Wilde intended this message, he is constantly poking fun and using humour as a cover to take jabs at how society works and is meant to be viewed. the audience watches the whole journey of these two men which is where the comedy comes from, their views and opinions to the modern day traditional Victorian at the time would seem bizarre to an audience member and create laughter.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 21 April 2016
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